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Browsing: Śrīpāla-rāsa and Gujarati commentary (Or. 13622)

Image: Opening page – decoration

Title: Opening page – decoration

Source:
The British Library Board
Shelfmark:
Or. 13622
Author:
Vinayavijaya and Yaśovijaya
Date of creation:
17th to 18th centuries
Folio number:
1 recto
Total number of folios:
88
Place of creation:
western India
Language:
Gujarati
Medium:
watercolour on paper
Size:
24 x 11 cms
Copyright:
CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
Image copyright: Creative Commons Public Domain

Background

This manuscript recounts the story of Śrīpāla, one of the favourite heroes of Jain story literature. Many authors have told the story of his life since at least the 14th century. Vinaya-vijaya’s version in Gujarati dates back to the 17th century and stands among the most popular ones.

Śrīpāla was a prince, but at the beginning of the story he appears as a leper. He becomes the husband of Princess Madanasundarī or Maynasundarī, after she has told her father, King Prajāpāla, that one’s fate depends on one’s own karma alone. After the marriage and devout prayer, Śrīpāla is cured of leprosy. The couple go through many adventures. Among the various people they meet is a Jain monk who teaches them the benefits of the navapada or siddhacakra.

Parts of the tale

There are eight main stages of the story.

The tale opens with King Prajāpāla of Ujjayinī, who has two daughters, Surasundarī and Mayanāsundarī, whose modern name is Mainasundarī. One day he questions them on what they think is the source of their happiness. Surasundarī answers that she owes everything to her father. Mayanasundarī thinks everything, good or bad, is the result of karma. Happy with the first daughter, the king asks her to choose her husband. Angry with the other one, he marries her to the prince of lepers. Mayanasundarī happily accepts her fate. It turns out that the prince of lepers is none other than Śrīpāla, a prince. After his marriage, he is cured of leprosy. Moreover, the couple have been told by a Jain ascetic about the navapada. Mayanasundarī's father repents.

In the next stage Śrīpāla is dejected after hearing that he is only thought of as King Prajāpāla's son-in-law. In order to demonstrate his own value, he leaves his happy life and the town of Ujjayinī.

His first significant encounter is with a sādhaka. Śrīpāla gives him help by using a vidyā his religious teacher had given him and receives in exchange two magical herbs. One enables him to cross water while the other will protect him against weapons.

The sādhaka leads him to some alchemists, whom Śrīpāla helps to produce gold. In exchange, they give him some, although he is reluctant to accept it.

Śrīpāla arrives at Broach, where the merchant Dhavala is looking for a young foreign man to sacrifice to the goddess, so that his ships can set sail. His men try to catch Śrīpāla but in vain. Śrīpāla meditates on the navapada and makes the ship move, then sails away with Dhavala.

Śrīpāla and Dhavala arrive in Babbarakula. King Mahākāla asks for a toll, which they refuse to pay. Mahākāla is defeated in the following fight, recognises Śrīpāla's superiority and offers his daughter, Madanasenā, in marriage.

They all go to Ratnadvīpa, where they meet Jinadāsa, son of the śrāvaka Jinadeva. He asks Śrīpāla to open the door of the sanctum of the Ṛṣabhanātha temple in Ratnasancaya. In spite of all the townspeople’s efforts, the door remains closed. Jinadāsa also asks him to marry Madanamanjūṣā, the king's daughter. The prince goes there, meditates upon the navapada, opens the door and gets Madanamanjūṣā as a third wife.

The prince now decides to go back home but has to face the jealousy of Dhavala, who decides to kill him. During the voyage he manages to throw Śrīpāla into the sea. Śrīpāla meditates upon the Nine Entities – depicted in the navapada or siddhacakra – and lands on an alligator's back. In the meantime, Dhavala thinks of other stratagems to get the two princesses for himself, but fails.

The distinction between a good man, Śrīpāla, and a wicked one, Dhavala, is clearly drawn.

The story of Śrīpāla is closely connected with the navapada or siddhacakra. This is a fundamental religious symbol associated with the doctrine of karma. This teaches that all human beings hold their destiny in their own hands.

Glossary

Dhyāna
Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.
Jain
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
Karma
Action or act, thought of as physical in Jainism. Created by mental or physical action, karma enters the soul, which then needs religious restraints and practices to make it flow out. Karma can be both:
  • negative – deriving from harmful acts
  • positive – arising from beneficial actions.
Both types of karma trap a soul in continual rebirth. A pan-Indian concept, karma has extremely complex, detailed and technical divisions and subdivisions in Jainism.
Śrāvaka
'Hearer’ of the teaching. This commonly refers to the Jain lay man, who follows the teachings of the 24 Jinas and is not a member of the clergy or a religious order. The feminine form is śrāvikā.
Vidyā
Knowledge, especially magic knowledge or power.
Ascetic
Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land. Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.
Deity
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
Doctrine
A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.
Prayer
A religious communication offered by a believer to a god or object of worship. It may:
  • be private or public
  • be silent or aloud
  • be undertaken alone or in a group
  • take prescribed ritual form or be improvised
  • need tools and accessories or not
  • be a wish to be granted
  • be a request for guidance
  • be a hymn of praise or thanks
  • be a confession
  • express an emotion or thought.
Temple
A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.
Sanctuary
The most sacred area of a temple, church or religious building, often where the image of a deity is housed and worshipped. An outdoor space that is associated with a deity may also be considered a sanctuary.
Gujarati
The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.
Siddhacakra or Navadevatā
The most common mystical diagram – yantra – in Jainism, which is believed to destroy karma and bring prosperity and good luck. There are nine parts, usually arranged in the shape of a lotus flower. The Five Highest Beings are depicted on five parts of the yantra. On the four other parts, there are sectarian differences. Digambaras call it the navadevatā or navdevata or navpad. The other four elements for them are:
  • a Jina image
  • a temple
  • the dharma-cakra or sacred wheel of law
  • the speech of the Jinas, in the scriptures.
For Śvetāmbaras it is the siddhacakra or navapada or navpad, which has representations of:
  • the 'three jewels' of Jain tradition
  • 'right austerity', often called the 'fourth jewel'.

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